|I don't know for sure if Obama honestly felt that the Peru Free Trade Agreement was, on balance, the right thing to do, or whether he just wanted to curry favor with the major corporations whose financial support is fueling his campaign. It's probably a little of both. Some Democrats have argued, for instance, that even though the Peru FTA's environmental and labor protections are weak and that the pact could result in significant job losses and deforestation, the fact that there are any protections at all is a step in the right direction and that it could produce modest economic growth.
But I don't think even Obama would argue that passing this highly flawed agreement should be more of a priority than tackling the climate crisis, ending the war in Iraq, protecting civil liberties, or expanding health care - all core elements of the Democratic agenda that have been blocked by President Bush and the Republicans. Obama himself said as much when discussing why he was going to oppose the only slightly weaker Central America Free Trade Agreement, telling workers that because the government was doing nothing about health care or wages, he couldn't "look them in the eyes" and defend free trade.
So why is he giving in now, even as longtime free trader Hillary Clinton admits that NAFTA created big problems and John Edwards calls for the wholesale renegotiation of trade agreements (though neither has made their position on the Peru FTA clear).
Well, Obama has made a pattern of accommodation and capitulation ever since he got to the Senate - and, as a result, keeps getting rolled. He voted for President Bush's class action bill that made it harder for victims of pollution and other corporate malfeasance to be compensated, voted for President Bush's 2005 energy bill that included massive oil, coal, and nuclear subsidies, and voted to allow credit card companies to raise interest rates over 30 percent - all the while getting no help from Republicans in passing the Democratic agenda.
That's why it's hard for me to get excited about Obama's admittedly ambitious climate and energy plan or his plan to end the war. Having lofty goals is great, but those goals will be meaningless without the stiff spine needed to achieve them. And I also worry what his chutzpah deficit says about Obama's ability to win in 2008: if he gets rolled when bargaining with Republicans legislatively, what will happen when he faces the Republican machine in the general election? What's more, what will happen when he's facing the Chinese, Russians, or Iranians at the negotiating table?
Democrats and Americans need someone with a big heart and a stiff spine for president - and thus far Barack Obama is clearly not meeting that standard.